BookLife Prize in Fiction
- by Jennifer Voigt Kaplan
In this engrossing World War II tale, two boys—Friedrich, a member of Hitler's Jungvolk, and Emil, a Jew—face the changes in Germany leading up to, and following, Kristallnacht. The character development and complexity for both the boys and the adult characters is impressive. While the prose occasionally falters, the setting and ethical complexity of the time come vividly alive.
- by Brian Wells
You couldn’t ask for a more appealing trio of middle-school misfit heroes: insecure motormouth Jake; TJ (the T is for Thelonious), a geeky fencer with hyper memory; and multilingual Lucy, adept at Budokai-do. During their orientation sleepover at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the three stumble onto a robbery with world-shattering potential. The author, a master of the cliffhanger chapter break, describes the kids’ ingenious derring-do so vividly, it’s like watching the movie version that surely deserves to follow.
- by Jan Karol Tanaka
In Tanaka's outstanding novel, 10-year-old Misha Alexandrov is orphaned and sets sail -- with his father’s friend Demitri -- to Alta, Calif., in 1827. The duo travel to Fort Ross to work, where Misha is challenged by foreman Tarasov, who calls him a half-breed and says he is bad luck because of his descent. The writing is fluid and engaging, allowing the reader to appreciate the history of Fort Ross, while the characters are fully realized and the book well plotted. The use of metaphor relays the book's strong message, making this story one to be used for discussion among readers.
- by Alina Sayre
This fantasy novel focuses on 12-year-old orphan Ellie, skilled in drawing and manuscript illumination and blessed with the gift of true Sight. Aboard a flying ship bound for a training school, she and her companions are enlisted to help save doomed islanders and fight the forces of the Enemy. Couching a fantasy novel in Christian symbolism, Narnia-style, can be awkward or didactic, but here the allegory is handled subtly and without distracting from dramatic, steadily building adventures set in a vividly imagined world.
- by Lowell H. Press
Set in Vienna’s Schonbrunn Palace, Nesbit, a weak and outspoken mouse, and his brother, Sommer, are forced into different lands where they must defend the kingdom as they encounter a variety of threats. The background and lore of the kingdom of mice are well crafted, though reluctant readers may find some of it overkill. Readers will enjoy the adventure and trouble that the two mice find themselves facing. Ending with a good message, this is a delightful story about the kinship of brothers.
- by Dean Ammerman
Ammerman’s engaging and hilarious narrative of intergalactic plumber Cardamon Webb and his two sidekicks on a journey to save the universe is cleverly unpredictable in a way that will have both parents and kids eagerly reading more. An exceptionally strong voice deftly imbues every page with tension and humor. Despite the insanity of the plot, the book succeeds brilliantly on a Douglas Adams scale.
- by Anthony Pardoe
This winning final volume of Pardoe's trilogy follows Star and Jasper (a young girl and a sea pebble) through beautiful crystal caverns on their long journey home. The prose is filled with adventures, and the skillfully drawn, fully realized main characters develop an even stronger bond in this installment. The well rendered scenery is evocative and educational as well.
- by Candie Leigh Campbell
In this fantasy thriller, Keira Donavan is a trained agent for SEEK, a covert government agency hunting mystical creatures called the Khayal. The way she slowly uncovers the truth about the Khayal and SEEK’s corruption and betrayal is masterfully plotted and executed. Jonathan Steed could use a little more depth, but Keira is a complex character, with needs warring with guilt, desires in conflict with what’s right. At heart, she’s just a 17-year-old girl who misses her family -- and her twisting story feels authentic and is thoroughly enjoyable.
- by Dorothea Jensen
Fifty years after American independence, General Lafayette is visiting all 24 of the new nation's states and everyone is eager to catch a glimpse of the honored guest, even 14-year old Clara Hargaves. Jensen effortlessly weaves history together with the daily trials of a girl resenting her stepmother’s reminders to behave like a lady. Most schoolchildren know Lafayette’s role in the Revolutionary War only superficially, and Jensen makes him come alive in a way they will remember. Historical accuracy, character development, and engaging dialogue enliven this narrative and make it an enjoyable read.
- by Will Summerhouse
Young Orion Poe discovers the fate of the Franklin Expedition in this unlikely, but highly entertaining middle-grade steampunk adventure. Sailing terminology, descriptive passages, and short cliffhanger chapters give the yarn great atmosphere, suspense, and pacing. The connection to a historical mystery adds dimension and interest, while Orion’s narrative voice is consistent and expressive. Characters are not terribly deep, but readers won’t care: the story’s the point and there’s plenty of that.
- by Anthony Pardoe
Pardoe's novel is a charming story of a young girl named Star who befriends a pebble and embarks on a magical adventure. Filled with scientific facts about geography and silly characters that adults wrongly believe to be inanimate objects, this book boasts strong prose, well developed characters, and a winningly original premise.
- by N. J. Donner
After his father’s death in 1918, 13-year-old Cole McCarthy discovers that his dad has left behind a secret with many responsibilities, including the Blue Moon Narthex, a stone that introduces him to the Karmanic Sovereign Legion. Despite laying necessary groundwork, Donner manages to keep the action moving. Primary characters like Cole are well-developed while secondary characters feel less genuine. The tech and trains give the novel a steampunk feel. Donner has left room for a sequel and left readers wanting more.